Since the Government came to power, employment has increased by 1.75 million and now stands at its highest level ever; unemployment has come down by almost 600,000; and the number of jobseeker’s allowance claimants has fallen by more than 40%. That is one of the many ways in which the stronger economy that we are building is leading to a fairer society in this country.
Does my right hon. Friend know that unemployment in my constituency is down to 1.3%, which is precisely half what it was at the last general election and one of the lowest figures in the north-west of England? Does he agree that without the Liberal Democrats and the coalition Government, we would not have had the political stability that was essential for the recovery to take hold?
I wholeheartedly agree with my hon. Friend. Not only has unemployment halved in his constituency, but employment has risen by 1,300 since 2010. That is testimony to the work of Liberal Democrats and the Government in creating stability and to his role of supporting and championing local businesses in the north-west of England.
A striking feature of the recent trends in unemployment is the increase in youth unemployment, which has risen for three months in a row. In the figures that were published last week, it rose by 30,000, which is the biggest jump for almost two years. Why is it that while overall unemployment is coming down, youth unemployment is going up? Why are young people losing out?
I am sorry to have to correct the right hon. Gentleman, but youth unemployment has come down by 171,000 over the past year and is 175,000 lower than when the Government came to power. In his constituency, it is down 53% since 2010—a fact that I am sure he will join me in welcoming. I would agree with him that we need to continue for a number of years with the successful policies that are reducing unemployment in this country, to ensure that every young person has the opportunity to make the best of their life.
May I congratulate the Front-Bench team on their economic policy and their long-term economic plan? Unemployment in South Dorset has halved over the past five years. Does the Chief Secretary agree that to hand the country back to the Opposition in a few months’ time would be an absolute disaster for the economic future of this country?
I agree that the right course for the country is to continue with the balanced, sustainable, fair action that we have taken to deal in a common-sense way with the country’s financial problems. Lurches away from that path are offered by the Labour party and, I am afraid to say, the hon. Gentleman’s party. That is why it is necessary to have the Liberal Democrats to keep the country on the straight and narrow.
Although unemployment in Northern Ireland is lower than would be expected at this point in the economic cycle, growth has not reached out to many of the regions of the United Kingdom, including Northern Ireland. What steps are the Government taking to address the concentration of growth in the south-east of England and the fact that it does not extend to the regions?
I do not accept the hon. Gentleman’s characterisation, because we see strong economic growth in London and the south-east and in Scotland, and the economy of the north-west of England has been growing well, particularly in employment. We are seeing a more balanced pattern of growth and job creation than in previous economic recoveries.
None the less, the hon. Gentleman is right to say that there are significant problems of unemployment in Northern Ireland. That is why we have put in place a range of policies to help support the Northern Ireland economy, some of which we will be debating this afternoon.